Sunday the 23rd March, 2008
Easter Island to Santiago Chile.
The best thing about being on this plane for so long was the time it gave me to think about the events of the last week. Being on this island in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean was, in itself, a privilege. Seeing the Moai statues set against the incredible rolling surf and uninhabited coastline was perfect, the sunsets were red clouded blasts of beauty. See what I mean below:
People say it is the most isolated island in the Pacific, and this is a fact in more ways than one. It is a long way from anywhere else in this vast ocean, and also, it isn’t visited by very many tourists being where it is, as it is not on any of the normal travel paths, you have to be lucky to be able to stop here on a stopover travelling from somewhere west of there and continuing on the Chile, or vice versa, flying from Chile to the west somewhere, getting my stopover took a few days, trying to match flights to and from there, but trust me it is totally worth it. I was also thinking about what the future had installed for me once I had the bike and hit the road in Chile.
This bike trip will be number two for me. The first big bike journey overseas for me started in Singapore back in 1979 on a Honda 750. That trip took me 3.5 years and I visited about 26 countries. I remember visiting places like India, when India was just India, no computers and Coca Cola, no mobile phones or I Pods, nothing but pure India, and the constant smell of curry, the way it was and has been for so long.
Trivial Fact about India :
Roads in India were all made by hand, the rocks are split apart from high up in the mountain ranges by the men and boys, they are then rolled down the hills to places where they are boken down again to a smaller size and then moved again until you see the women and young girls sitting on the edges of the road with rocks the size of garbage bins. They sit on the edge on the road with a hammer and chisel in their hands, that’s all the tools they need, they sit there all day long, day after day just chiselling small pieces of rock off the large rocks to form piles of what we call aggregate, the small stones that are commonly used with tar to seal all of our roads. Not only do they make the rocks that form the road, but the tar is also heated up in big tanks on the old trucks and carried and poured onto this rock base with rubber buckets, hot tar poured by hand, it is amazing to watch them handle this stuff. Some of the roads I rode on, were as good as roads in Australia, smooth, flat and level.
I loved travelling in India, a nation that didn’t pull any punches, what I saw, was the way it was and has been for a long time, a real culture shock from my lifestyle in Australia, there is a saying about travelling through India, “you either love or hate it “. The guy Phil I had been travelling with for just on 4 months, packed up his bike and gear on Christmas day in southern India and told me he was going back to Australia, he found it all too hard to deal with, left me on my own in India. I wrote to his mother later on and I was told Phil just couldn’t deal with the real life of the people, the poverty, and the smell of curry, the food and the traffic.I was amazed at the politeness, the friendliness of the local people, the urge and the struggle to survive every day. Trying all of the different types of food and the unique tastes of so many different curries was an experience in itself, stunning. Chi (tea) was great also; the clay throw away cups are a collector’s item.
Riding a motorbike in India back then is another story in itself.
I also spent some time thinking about where I was going to travel in South America. Firstly, getting the bike through customs and reassembled was the no.1 job.
I did have a kind of list of the places that I wanted to see, Ushuaia, Machu Picchu Inca ruins, Maya ruins, Lake Titicaca (highest lake in the world), Potosi (highest city in the world) The Nazca Lines, and most of all, riding over the Andes etc, which I can say now was 1 of the highlights of this whole trip, breathtaking scenery.
There was a lot to see and I wasn’t concerned to much about the rumours of crime and police corruption in south America, I was more concerned with Central America though.
I think I had made some simple, but good decisions about this trip even before I left Australia that would be the outline of this whole trip.
• One, I would travel solo.
• Two, Get as far north as possible, America maybe!!!!
• Three, Camp out as much as possible to save money, no drinking alcohol on the road, maybe have a few drinks when I am sure me and the bike are in a safe place.
• Four, See as much as possible, lots of small back roads and meet as many local people as I can.
• Five, Have an open mind, take South America as it is, no comparing it to any other place I have visited before.
• Six, Take my time and just enjoy it all.
One point I forgot to think about was, was I anxious or worried about my own safety on this trip. To tell the truth, I never gave it a thought!
I remember looking out of the window as we were getting prepared to land in San Diego and just being amazed at the mountain range just outside of my window. We travelled along the side and level with the top of this mountain range for quite a while, the sun was setting and the whole scene was breathtaking, mountain tops with soft clouds filling in the gaps, the reflecting rays of sunset bouncing off the rocks and the red singed clouds making it a PERFECT entrance to Chile. This is the Andes mountain range, a ridge of mountain that I was to cross no less than 26 times over the next 1.5 years. This massive long, high, majestic mountain range runs the full length of South and Central America; it then lies all the way up to Alaska.
I finally arrived at Santiago International airport at 9.30pm.
I went through customs ok; I had a big suitcase with me, filled with bike gear, a backpack and a few dollars with a dream coming true, I was on the ground in Chile, I had a nice bike coming in a crate and I had NO IDEA HOW TO SPEAK SPANISH. (My only Spanish word was” SI” a word I had heard from movies and thought it meant YES)
I hooked up a lift in a taxi with some other backpackers to get us into the city, they knew of a good hostel to stay at in town and we were on our way.
The hostel was called La Casa Raja, a nice place, with lots of amenities, lots of young people and a nice walk from the centre of the city.
We went out for a feed and I had a great night’s sleep.
The next week was filled with walks around the city and a couple of visits to the shipping agents office in town.
He was a really nice guy; he had a small office and spoke a fair bit of English, enough to explain to me that the bike was going to be delayed.
I had been told by the shipping agents in Brisbane that the bike would arrive in Chile about a week after I arrived.
Now I was being told that it actually left Brisbane for Hong Kong, then Hamburg in Germany, after leaving there, it went via the Panama Canal on its way to Valparaiso, the shipping port on the coast from Santiago.
Trouble was, it has been held up and won’t arrive here for about another 4 weeks.
I emailed Brisbane and got no real response, “ that’s the way it goes with shipping, leaves on time arrives whenever “ was the only reply I got. This wasn’t a great start.
I decided to not waste time hanging around Santiago and after talking to the shipping agent, I decided to take a bus up to Bolivia and have a look around up there for a spell.
Have you ever tried to walk into a bus tour office and find out all about the buses heading up into Bolivia with a lady that didn’t speak a word of English?
I had to find out which buses went to where, when did they leave, where did they leave from, how much was the ticket etc. The lady and I spent the next twenty minutes doing just that.
What a challenge. With pictures and time tables we finally got it.!!!!!!!!!
I knew all I needed to know and we were still friends. I finally paid the fare and received my tickets.As I was leaving, I thanked her for the effort she had put into helping me out, she actually stood up and shook my hand and just laughed.
She was a very nice lady.
I walked back into town and went up to the Cerro Santa Lucia Park. It’s quite a large area on a hill, right in the centre of town and it is a great place to visit. There are walking paths and statues and plenty of shaded trees all over the place, until you reach the summit. It’s a good all round view of the city.
Santiago is a nice walking city, lots to see around the city squares and lots of old time buildings, parks etc the only down fall is the pollution, this city is surrounded by mountains and this holds back the smog, after 4 days I started to get a headache whenever I walked into town.
The shipping agent told me that he was also leaving the city because of the smog. He was moving out to the coast near Valparaiso to get some fresh air for himself and his family.
I was pretty angry about the bike delay, but I figured the time I had to wait, would give me a chance to learn a little about Chile and Bolivia, maybe even learn a bit of Spanish and just adjust to the new culture of S.A.
One thing that surprised me was the cost of living here, it is very expensive, some say, it is the most expensive country in South America.
I packed my bike gear in a safe room at the hostel, loaded up my small backpack and headed off to the bus station.
Packed up my bike gear and put it into the safe room at the hostel this morning, spent some time with the 2 young pommy guys I had met here and a very nice German girl, telling the boys what to see when they get to Australia.
I had a nice lunch with my German friend.
I got the, around the city tourist rip off trip with a taxi just to get to the bus station. It was a pretty well organised bus terminal however, buses going in and out of the terminal at precise times, they were going out all over the country, better standards then our own system. Big new coaches, double-deckers and local coaches move around in sequence. My bus left at 5pm for the 1547 kms journey up to a town called Calama, way up into the north of this long narrow country, about 20hours away. I had a front seat with nobody else sitting beside me for the whole trip.
Food is also served as part of the ticket on these long distance buses; it’s picked up hot and fresh as we went along. The highway was perfect, sealed and smooth tar, you only have to pay a toll for a short distance out of the city and then it’s all go. If there’s an outback on the moon then I’ve been there. Once I got a fair distance out of Santiago, the countryside just changed from small towns to desert. This northern part of Chile is really arid, dry, open desert country; the north is so different from the lush green south. There are no lakes and rivers up here at all, no trees and mountains topped with snow, these hills are barren and get very dusty when the wind comes up, temperature is quite high during the day, and very cold at night being desert cold, which can be very low after dark as I was to find out very shortly.
All throughout the next day we went through similar country, it just seemed to get more barren and I mean barren, nothing but plain bare mountains, a lot of sand and occasionally a small village. No trees, rivers or grass for hundreds of miles. As usual, like in the Sinai, some people just get off buses in the middle of nowhere and start walking into the wilderness. Calama is near the site of the biggest silver mine in the world; I may have a better look around when I get here on the bike. It’s amazing to have such a rich area and the people in town, live in such poverty, shanties all over the place and not many big homes of the rich. After a small language session at the bus station, I have managed to get a cheap ticket, I’m hoping it will take me all the way to the Bolivian border, most tourist go down to San Pedro de Atacama and take a tour bus across into Bolivia crossing the salt flats for about $100, I’m hoping to get it for about $10. San Pedro is in Argentina and I will visit this whole area on the bike.
Bus leaves about 10pm tonight. I managed to get a room at the Residential Tono for 6000 peso, plus 3000 to stay until 9.30pm that’s ok.
While I was at the bus station, I felt my first earth tremor, it was a small one but I felt it, shook the floor boards a bit, it shock the whole little bus depot a bit also, it felt kind of weird, being moved around and not seeing anything, just vibrations.
Monday, 31st March.
We travelled all night going through small towns like Conchi, San Pedro, crossing the Salar de Ascotan salt lakes, arriving in Ollague about 2.30am in the morning. Next thing, we stop in this little town in the middle of nowhere. The driver turns the motor off and he and his co-driving mate leave us in the bus and went inside a little house and never returned until 7.30am. Every one of us left on the bus FROZE OUR ASSES OFF. On the bus there were backpackers, old Bolivian women, old men and some small kids I reckon it was about 3 degrees inside the bus. No one slept at all as we were all shaking too much to stay still long enough to fall asleep.
I walked up to the driver’s seat and found an old blanket, which I grabbed and wrapped around myself to fight off the cold night air.
Big surprise when the sun appeared above the horizon, the sky was blue and all of the mountains around us had snow on their peaks, the whole countryside was dead flat then rose up to these beautifully shaped mountains.
One peak is called Volcan Ollague, 5863 metres high and still smoking, she’s gently sending up big plumes of white smoke. It is hard to describe how beautiful this area is in such clear conditions. Over the back was the other peak called Co Aucanquilcha, its 6176 metres high, just magnificent with the snow capes ridges on the top. Things got even better; we were at the border crossing with Bolivia. Finally with Chile time which is no rush, we went through customs about 9am, took 1minute to get a clearance stamp to leave Chile and then back on the bus to go just 1km to the centre on no man’s land. Between all these borders they have about 2km’s of land that separates each countries border crossings. Here we changed buses in the middle and carried on to the Bolivian customs border office, off the bus again and through the paper work once more. Cost about $4 for entry visa, no hassle and off we went again, heading for Uyuni. This whole area is just bare of any plant life, just massive smooth weathered mountains and every now and then a volcanic ridge would appear with snow peaks on the top to make it look picture perfect. About 20kms along the gravel road you can look back and see the back of the active volcano, it has a path on cooled lava that has gouged its way down the rocky side of the mountain, weaving its way across and back again until it reaches the bottom where it sprays out into the flat plains and then stops. This scenery goes on for a hundred kms. All along the edge of the road you can see Lama’s, Alpaca’s and a few donkeys grazing on the small saltbushes that have just started to appear. All the animals are tagged, there are so many different coloured ribbons and strings attached to the ears of all of the animals, it’s the way the locals mark their own herd, you can see groups of up to 50or 60 just roaming free. This is where I saw my first glimpse of true nomadic mountain herdsmen and women with the traditional wide life. Some of the less seen wildlife up here are Vicunas, an animal that stands only 3 feet tall, is fast and it has such fine wool, it was used a lot for Inca Royalty. Chinchillas, foxes and out on the salt flats, you can see flocks of pink flamingos.
The only grass you see for the animals to eat up here is called “ Paja Brava “, called Brava probably because it has to be brave to try and survive in these cold, high conditions.
I don’t know if you have ever seen the movie “motorcycle diaries “ if you haven’t, get it and watch a great movie, not only is it about two guys on a bike, but it is also about life as they saw it in South America, back in the early 60’s, please don’t miss it.
It is the story about the man called CHE GUEVARA who became famous throughout the world as an Argentinean Marxist, revolutionary, physician, author, intellectual, guerrilla leader. (Description by Wikipedia)
I had travelled for about six months before I saw this movie and I can tell you, that when you watch the movie and you see Che talking to the farmer on the road side about how the rich owners of the farms down in the valley, just kicked him and his family and lots of other farmers off their farms, I think this is when Che realised that this whole continent needed changes, I saw and watched myself, how these people strive to survive up here, one day at a time and I felt like they needed a change for the better. How do change something for the better, such an old race of people like this.
Do you take them away from the mountain, just to make them feel better with electricity and the modern things of the western world, water, varieties of food, education for the kids; or do you build them nice modern homes way up there in the mountains?
Up here, there is little water, no power, no hospitals, schools etc.
A child growing up here has one main job to do. He or she has to spend their days watching the herds, they have to walk and let them graze on anything that is edible. This job is usually done by the young or the very old people of the family.
I have tried to think about how I would like to help in some way, and I can’t answer that question fully, not even now.
Whenever you see pictures of snow-capped mountains with lamas and alpaca’s grazing on the high altiplano in Bolivia with the herd’s people, this is it, right here. The pictures don’t tell you the true story of the people up here though. These folk live a very, very basic life style. They live in small mud thatched huts, they have no running water, no heating systems, they don’t grow many crops at this altitude, they spend their whole day sitting and walking with their small herds. They are open to all of the elements, the beautiful scenery, the cold winds and the hot sun, the days can be quite warm and the nights are cold as I felt in the bus. There are not many shops, no schools for the kids up here.
Their lively hoods are based on selling the wool and sometimes selling an animal. There is no wood up here for fires, that stuff disappeared a long time ago. How they survive amazes me, they are a hard race of people and as I found out later on, they have a kind soft nature about themselves. They are honest and do not believe in ripping anybody off, they are just simple kind mountain people, I admired them and loved meeting with them.
They have like a sun burnt kind of skin on their round faces, they are dressed with many colours and the kids are very shy when you try and talk to them.
Occasionally, you’ll come across an abandoned small settlement. All of the buildings were made out of mud walls with wooden sticks woven into the walls to bind and hold the mud together and what looked like grass or stalks of thin grain, tied together to form a thatched roof, they were just left to rot and weather away. It seems that the lack of water made these people move on. I just sat on the bus and went mad with the camera, if I was on the bike it would have been just perfect to pull up and take photos all day. I will try and come back this way on the bike if it’s feasible, I just loved this bit of Bolivia, and it’s what I had pictured it to be.
We stopped at a small town called San Cristobal for a 10 minutes break, the town was clean as a whistle, there were about 40 small 2 room houses made from clay bricks, they had even been perfectly lined up as if there was a curbing along the street. There was one shop that was in the middle of town. It was a fuel depot, it was also used as a market place and you could also get a feed there. There was also a church in the middle of the town. I took some photos of the local church, what a work of art it was; it seems that this village has a lot of pride in its dwellings. Each hut had a small clay brick fenced area out the back of around about 200 square feet, this is where they all had a small crop of corn, maize or wheat growing in their own back yards. I have been told recently that the town I saw was fairly new, the old town where they used to live and mine silver was in the silver mining area and they had to be moved away, so they could keep on mining. It has been said that a space shuttle picture taken of this area, used to show what minerals are in the ground, showed that this place has having more silver reserves underground then what there is in Potosi. The underground rocks here also contain other minerals like zinc and lead.
San Cristobal has a very vast and colourful history, you can see and feel it in the way the town is, for some strange reason. I loved this town, its people and its scenery, this is the real Bolivia I wanted to see and here I am.
We finally arrived in Uyuni about lunchtime, what a mess this town is in; rubbish everywhere and rundown buildings all over the place. There’s not much here except tour operators taking people out to the salt lakes for camping trips. I met a few backpackers at the bus station who were trying to decide on whether to stop here for a spell or just keep going, I had decided already to keep going and try to get to Potosi. The word was out that there was a big protest going on the next day all over the country about the people putting pressure on their new President, demanding changes to the Government’s review on the Constitution and buses would not be running. By 6.30pm there were backpackers everywhere trying to get a bus ticket for Potosi and any other place available. I will come back again on my way down south, as there are a few places of interest to see here, like the old train museum, the trains are very old and neglected, a couple were missing most mechanical parts, but they are still in good enough condition that they could be repaired and started up again without too much trouble as the air is so dry up here and there is not much humidity in the air to let the rust penetrate into the steel work. We left at 7pm for a 7-hour journey up the mountain and I mean up the mountain, a gravel road that winds and bends all over the place, snaking its way up, trying to get to Potosi, 4060m above sea level and a Unesco World Heritage site. I’m hoping to leave here in the daytime to see the road down for myself; some people say it’s best not to see it at all, especially from the seat of a bus.
1st April 2008.
Another dream achieved.
I have been to the lowest city in the world at Ushuaia in Argentina, now I have got to the highest city in the world, POTOSI, here in Bolivia.
We arrived here about 2.30am, it is cold and I felt light headed straight away, it was the altitude difference, I met an Aussie girl and her Italian husband on the bus, and they had made a booking at a hostel in town, so I went with them, shared a taxi and scored a bed in a hostel called “The Koala Den” of all the names to call a hostel in Bolivia. Dorm bed was 20 Bol/night and they had lots of blankets on hand for us. I slept until 7am, had breakfast, a hot shower and headed off down into town.
Walked down the narrow streets to the town square where there were people everywhere. It was a big day in Potosi as the new President of Bolivia was here for a visit.
His name is Evo Morales, in 2005; he was the first indigenous president to be elected in Bolivian history. Evo is an Aymaraian, and he comes from the Altiplano.
This word means, the land that is the high flat tablelands of the Andes, it stretches from the north to the south of Bolivia for about 500 miles or 800 kms. Its average height is about 12,000 feet or 4000 metres. He was, as many others were, a poor farmer whose crops were COCA .He became the leader of a group of farmers who fought a long battle against the forces of the USA against drugs. As I walked around this town and many other towns, I saw a lot of the locals with this big lump on the side of their faces, they were chewing coca leaves, it is a tradition that has been up here forever, and it is part of their culture. It is cheap to buy and they say, it is not addictive, I tried it and I will never be addicted to it, trust me, I prefer vegemite to this stuff.
The town was alive with parades and music. This is the beauty of this type of climate, the air is fresh, no pollution, the sky is bright blue and the people are in general, very healthy, one reason is they live on clean air, they all walk everywhere up here and this town is built on the side of a mountain, all the streets either go straight up or down and I mean on one hell of an angle either way.
I planned on a slow and easy walk around town, I want to get acclimatised and spend some time just looking at the historical buildings and the amazing views of the valleys all around us from this unique hillside town, as it was, I ended up seeing the President close up on his walk through the streets and then I spent all afternoon listening to the different bands scattered all around the town square and on many street corners, all playing the traditional music of the indigenous culture of this area of Bolivia.
One nice thing about walking this town, is seeing the very old cobbled stone laneways, they were built a long time ago for people and probably donkeys, very narrow and matched the old stone walls of the small houses.
Nothing has changed much up here in the buildings or the layout of the town for hundreds of years, no need to go modern up here.
A day I will always remember.
I plan now to stay here for a few days as I’m feeling a bit of the altitude effect and sometimes feel like a headache is coming on, just trying to walk up a small hill; both Helen and I were feeling a bit light headed by the day’s end. I also want to spend some time here to work out where to go with the bike as the weather is different now to what I had first planned it to be here and I need to review my whole plan of travelling. Also, after talking to some of the backpackers that have been in South America for some time, it appears that the cost to travel in some countries is very much higher than others, mainly Chile and Brazil; people are saying that they are both very expensive compared with places like Bolivia and Peru. I am feeling now like this is the preparation I needed to do and what a place to be able to start it all off with. Planning now is the nice feeling I love to experience, I am doing what I love to do, just being here is a buzz and from what I have seen so far, this trip is going to be one hell of a journey.
3rd April 2008
Wandered the streets for a while this morning, went to the main market and bought a new bag, zip on the old bag broke. Bought some cocoa leaves, a packet of local cigs, not impressed at all with the taste of both. Being game, I saw some stuff that looked like beef jerky, after a bit of sign language and hand actions I worked out that it was lama beef jerky, had to try it, as it would be good to chew while I was on the bike. It tasted quite strong and very salty. Small pieces, now & then is o.k. I decided to move to the Hotel Jerusalem, a bit more expensive from 20 Bol to 40 Bol a day .
It’s one of the old world type hotels, big courtyard in the centre of about 3 floors of rooms with private showers and toilet. Very clean and breakfast is included.
As it is a problem with what to do and try and save money until the bike arrives, I may decide to stay here for a few days, see the thermal pools, go up the hills and view the city and catch up on letters and p/cards
2nd April Wednesday.
Easy day, still feeling a bit light headed, I decided to stay in the hotel and sort files out on the computer, had a nice local lunch. I also started to fill in records for ATM money and other costs. Spent some time looking at the map of Sth. America and planning on which way I can go when I get the bike, also making plans for the next few days before moving on.
4th April Friday.
Spent today touring all the historical sites in town. Went to the Iglesias de San Lorenzo church, famous for its mestizo façade, the whole front entrance is sculptured lime stone blocks, actually timed it right to be able to see inside, whilst I was there, there was a mass going on. As with all the churches I’ve entered since I arrived, it’s hard to describe the detailed walls and the artwork on the walls and the ceilings, truly a site to see. The woodwork is indescribable especially in the ceiling. Other churches included the Museo & Convento de San Francisco, Convento de Santa Teresa, and Compania de Jesus on Ayacucho. Walked up to the central market to watch the nightlife. They have stalls selling everything you can think of. The stalls selling cakes here were doing well. Thing is, these cakes are fully creamed and decorated, the size would amaze you, they would have to be about 450mm round & 200mm high. Watched a guy selling bark off a tree. He showed people how to shave off the bark, then slice off the inner bark into a jug of water, left it for a moment, then poured the liquid into a glass and drank it showing the people it was drinkable and then he keep on rubbing his stomach, I think it was to show them that it was good for the body. Not many takers. Bolivians love sweet things, cakes, lollies, biscuits, and stalls all over the place selling junk food. Lots of stalls were selling all sorts of juices, one drink I looked at trying, had a thing in the bottom that looked like a snail. One stall actually sold juice from a big jug that had a large amount of snails on the bottom, lost my thirst right away. It’s an experience to stand and watch life in the market places, I love walking markets anywhere.
5th April Saturday.
Great day today. Breakfast and off to the internet store, tried to send an attachment back to people in Mackay, still struggling with the keyboard, sent a couple of emails, will beat it soon, just takes time to get confidence up.
I spent a couple of hours going through the silver mint museum. It’s got to be the best I’ve ever seen. Its whole history goes back to the 16th Century. I bought a guidebook showing the mints whole life story. The machinery is all original and in perfect condition, the 3 silver bar rolling machines were still in their original positions.
The presses were made in Spain and shipped over to here in hundreds of pieces. The unique thing was, it is all hand shaped timber. The shaft went down through the floor to a base with 4 poles which mules were attached to and walked around in a circle to drive the 26 odd gears on the upper floor, these gears were positioned in a way that the two metal rollers in the centre of it all, were the ones that thinned down the silver bars into long narrow strips of thin plate, which was then used to cut out the coin sizes that were needed, they were then put onto a post and manually stamped on one side, rolled over and stamped again. The wood work was perfect in many ways, the cogs were shaped out of special wood, the shafts were perfectly round, the whole thing was well oiled and still ready to use and make silver coin plate, I was just amazed at the workmanship of this machine, something you don’t see very often anywhere, and the other unique thing was it was all held together by lots of wooden wedges.
Another stunning room here was the actual coin display area, it was so well done. They have so many original stamped coins here, some of the collections were given to them by people like the ship wreck diving companies, one collection in particular, was from a wreck which was found in the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere. The company donated a large amount of these very old coins back to the museum. The paintings on the walls, the tools of the miners etc were all displayed so well, we all see many museums and churches on our travels but this place, will stay with me forever. A real credit to the people of this town to have and to maintain such a unique part of their local and theirs countries history.
The displays of the silver ware were beautiful. The paintings are stunning. You could even still see the footprints in the wooden floors where the workers stood and worked, that would have taken years to produce, as they didn’t move much doing what they were doing. I was told today, it is classed as the best museum of its kind, showing some of the silver coin history of South America, maybe the best exhibit of relic coins in the southern hemisphere.
Sadly, I packing up tonight, I am leaving for Sucre in the morning.
A summary of Potosi.
A town in the most unusual countryside you could ever imagine. Built on top of a massive mountain range only because of the enormous amounts of silver found here by a couple of locals and then, when the Spanish found out about the two brothers mining the silver in secret, claimed it as their own, for the king of Spain. Even in the 16th century, it had the largest town or city population at that time in the world. A fairly dirty city with very small streets left as it was in the past, the air is so clean but you do always feel the altitude, especially when you try to walk up one of the many hill streets. Markets and street stalls everywhere selling almost anything you could want. The people are reserved towards tourists, not arrogant but weary of all the different cultures in their city. Food for the locals is bread, eggs, salads and strips of lama meat cooked in street stalls, it seems, that they eat a lot of street cooked food up here, mainly because it’s cheap and I believe a lot of the locals live a very basic lifestyle.
This is where you can buy some of the most colourful locally woven Lama and Alpaca clothing in Bolivia, coats, jackets,hats, gloves and all sorts of clothing, all made from pure dyed wool.
The buildings all over the city are filled with history, the churches are stunning and they take pride in their churches and I think they are proud of their religion. Even when they walk past a church, they do a sign of the cross on their face and body no matter how rich or poor they are. Traffic is mayhem, small narrow laneways and taxis racing around looking for fares can be quite dangerous.
A big moment for me was to arrive early in the morning and then being told that the first Indigenous President of Bolivia was having a parade through the town square at 9am in the morning. Getting within 3metres of him was a good feeling and with all of this going on, the sound of the windpipes all over the town, the atmosphere was was indescribable. It was as if a building was made of windpipes and the wind was gently blowing over them, sending down a magical sound as if the notes were falling like rain drops. I like Potosi mainly because of its history, its buildings, the silver mint museum and the music you hear where ever you walk. A real pleasure to have made it here.
6th April Sunday.
Another amazing day of travel, this country never stops stunning me with all its history, scenery and colourful people.
Got a taxi down to the bus terminal, the local mini -cab drivers to Sucre nearly dragged me out of my taxi, trying to get me to go with them to Sucre.
It cost 40 Bol ($5) to travel 150 kms. WE left about 9.15 am for the 2-hour drive, what a way to see the countryside, the car so much better than the buses, the road was good and the mountains were just magnificent. Words can’t justify how scenic and enormous they are. Even the way the houses were positioned on the sides of the hills is a work of art; some of them are kind of like just glued with clay and know how just to have them stay there, in such a steep place. Some of the houses were neatly tucked into the little crevasses of the mountain to shelter them from the elements. I saw a lady walking a couple of cows up this path that I would have struggled to walk up myself. These people have adapted so well to their environment, it is amazing to see how they, not only live where they live, but also they have crops of corn and other plants growing on the most peculiar landscape, most of the ground preparation must be done with mules, nothing else would be able to even get to some of these places, let alone do the work.
The road meandered through this massive mountain range coming down 1000 metres to the town of Yotala and along the widest river I’ve seen up here so far. The Rio Yotala River goes past Yotala right through to Sucre. It changes its name along the way to the Rio Quirpinchaca.
It seems to support a lot of small towns along the way. I reached Sucre about lunchtime, got dropped off by the cabbie at a hostel called the Pachamama hostel on Anicento Arce.
This neat and cosy place was perfect, 40 Bol for a single room with bathroom/toilet, neat and clean room and very nice people who ran it. It’s so nice to find such a place and know that it will be good for the time you spend here, I have had some good ones and some, you just try and forget about, but then when you strike it good like here, it goes the same too for the camping places out in the open road, some days I find spots that you could stay there for days, but you do have to move on, and hope you find more of the same down the road.
I walked down town and once again, I was stunned at the beauty of the city buildings and the beautifully kept gardens in the town square. Another nice place to soak up the past history of this amazing country. Most of the dozen or so churches and buildings in the centre of town date back to the 16th century. I am looking forward to tomorrow to walk in history again. Its places like here that I think I found that if you walk the town streets, and the town squares, you usually get a picture of the type of people that live here. I see how the people are by the way that they sit around and talk, how they treat folk like me, who are totally different to them, the way they sometimes say hello to me, you get a quick idea of who they are by the way they make you feel in their town. This one felt good and usually it turns out to be a nice place. I have to hone my skills once again on towns like this because as I travel to places along the road, you have to use instinct to know, if it is a good place or a place to avoid, one of the many skills needed to survive over here.
Another day of great contrast between the survivors of this harsh terrain and the majestical mountains of the southwest of Bolivia.
7th April Monday.
Found out today why I can’t find a post office open anywhere, not only to buy stamps, but to send some post cards back to folks in Mackay. They have been on strike over pay conditions for over a week here, I don’t know how long it has been going on in Potosi, but that’s the reason why it was always closed whenever I managed to find a post office. There were no signs on the door; no one to ask what was going on. You can’t even buy stamps from anywhere else, but the damn P.O. I don’t know how the businesses are getting on with their mail, it seems that it could go on for a lengthy period of time yet, then again, they may be back at work tomorrow, you cannot tell what is going to happen at any period of time here in Bolivia.
I was lucky enough to find the Iglesia de San Francisco church open, as there was also a mass going on. It is well known for its Mudejar influences, particularly in the ceiling design. Built around the 1500 AD era, it is breath taking to stand there and just look up at this amazing works of art, as is all the others that I’ve seen so far.
Standing on the street corner with my lonely planet book in my hand, I had a tap on the shoulder, with somebody asking me, did I want some assistance in finding certain place, or was I just lost.
He name was Bismark Elvis Veliz Mamani; he was a young Bolivian Uni student living in Sucre, studying English and French. We ended up spending all afternoon together, he acted as a tourist guide showing me the sites of the town and I was helping him with his English. We had a great time walking the streets, talking about his family, where he came from, what his father did and things about Bolivia in general. We went to the indigenous Museum, which is self-funded, showing the whole background history of the three different cultures from this part of Bolivia. We had a guide to take us through the museum, she explained items and things to Bismark in which he then translated into English for me, and it was a great tour, especially when the items of clothing and the different colours were explained to me in detail, to what they meant to the people in the different areas, as they didn’t have written numbers and many words to record events of their time, so they weaved material with colours and figures to record their history. The way it worked back then was, each area of the country made colours to show their own life style, if they had mountains, they would use the ground colours of the soil in their clothes, if they lived in flat grazing areas, the wool colours were their mark, in the mining areas, metal ornaments were sewn into the clothing and so on.
Hats is a great example of showing where the people came from, and these people are famous for their head wear, the rounded bowler hats, the wide brim country hats, all showed and told a story about the people wearing them, it is very common to see most women wearing a hat. It really does suit them.
The Quechua women wear flat-brimmed straw hats above their very long black braided hair.
They dress in short knee length, velvet thick dresses, where as the Aymaraian women dress with longer clothing, they also wear embroidered shawls with the bowler hats.
Most of the men wear mainly western style clothing; but they all have the traditional thick coats and jackets on hand.
Next stop was the market place to have some lunch, which was traditional Bolivian food. It was a bowl of vegetables, a very large bowl which looked and tasted like homemade soup, it was delicious, which eased Bissy’s mind as he wasn’t sure that I would have like it or even be able to eat such local food. He went back to Uni and I walked up THE HILL to see the Recoleta Church and the best view of Sucre.
Had all my washing done today for a cost of $2 for about 1.5kgs. Visited a couple of more indigenous weaving shops, it never stops amazing me the colours, the designs and the quality of the woven products that they can make on such basic equipment.
Saw my first demonstration this morning in the town plaza. It started off with some young kids protesting outside the local council chambers, which then got a lot of women involved, which then got a lot of men involved, because some men were hassling the woman, so more men started to fight with the hasslers. It wasn’t very violent; they punched each other to the ground and then basically ran off a distance so they wouldn’t get hit back. It was quite amusing to watch. Met my guide at lunchtime and we went looking for native traditional sampona music. We wandered through the markets and along these narrow alleys until we got a music stall that had some famous local groups playing traditional music. Bought three cd’s and a video. I then caught a micro bus a few kms out of town, which got me to the CASTLE, a place where a rich Spanish family lived many years ago. It was a majestic building back then, you could tell by the style of the whole place, now it is in a state of much needed repairs, there were about a hundred odd rooms and an elegant front entrance. It was owned by a Spanish family that had ties with the Catholic Church in Rome and they had, of course, high positions in the Government, which gave them a lot of power and of cause, a large amount of influence and money. Back in town again, I walked past the House of Liberty, which for the past few days has been closed.
This is the most famous building in Bolivia for the fact that the first documents of the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE for Bolivia were signed here in 1825.
It was a new country, named for the liberator SIMON BOLIVAR.
All of the furniture and the intricate woodwork in the hall was covered with 24 carat gold leafing. It was said that the total weight of the gold leaves in this building would have weighed a couple of ton, it was very where. Even the small gallery woodwork up above and over the big main doors to the entrance to the hall were gold covered. The guide spoke great English and gave us a fantastic informed walk throughout the whole building; he talked about the whole history of Bolivia right back to when there were no Spanish and just the local culture tribes as they were called. Paintings of the heroes of the revolution were everywhere on the walls, including a lady that became famous as a leader of the revolutionist after her 4 children died and the Spanish captured and executed her husband. After they won their independence, the Government made her a commanding officer of the Bolivian army. Bolivia has an amazing history, so many wars to gain independence, fighting surrounding countries for their rights to keep the rich land and diverse land that they had lived in for so long. A book on the history of Bolivia would be great reading after you have seen this fantastic country. I found out that taking pictures in this building with a flash could and can get you into a lot of trouble. I had a bit of a confrontation with the local police guards, got dragged back over to the main office and got shown a notice on the ticket desk where a sign stated that you can pay 10 bols to take photos, but no flashes, this part of the desk sign was hidden under a book. They realised it was covered and I was let off with a mean face from a very large, solid, policewoman.
Sucre is well known for its young population of Uni. students. The central plaza last night was a sight to see, there was a parade once more, they love parading, it was a group of school kids and a band of gorgeous girls in white short dresses playing music. Hundreds of uni students had just finished classes and the streets and the gardens in the square were full of locals enjoying the cool but beautiful evening. They are a very basic living community up here; you always see them smiling and usually very happy. Leaving tomorrow for Oruro, it’s on the way to La Paz.
Met up with Bismark, gave him a CD copy of the Aussie songs I had with me, he‘s a nice guy and he helped me a lot. While I was just sitting on a park bench in the town square watching the locals pass by, this guy sat down next to me, he looked and spoke like an Aussie, turned out his name was Steve and he came from Darwin. He was over here working as a driver for a tour company called Tucan Tours. He’s been over here for about two years and has seen most of South America. We sat on the bench for about 2 hours talking and working out which were the best options for me to take when the bike arrives, as the weather will now be a major factor on which way is best to go. It was great to hear him talking about all of his experiences along the road, what to watch out for and where not to go; it was very useful advice to have, especially first hand. I witnessed another protest today, this one concerned indigenous woman who were protesting about the previous Government taking some of their land away from them, as it was the place where they have been holding their local markets for years and years. They were demanding that this new Government give it back to them, so they can go back to selling the things the way it used to be, to these people, somebody had taken away part of their old culture. Found out that the bus to Oruro would only cost me 30 bols but would take 19 hours. Decided to go straight to La Paz, it was a direct overnight bus and took only 12 hours.
You know, it’s funny how sometimes you don’t even realise the positions you put yourself into when you are travelling , here I am in the middle of Bolivia, I don’t speak and haven’t learnt any Spanish yet, and yet even here in this town, the locals talk in a language that isn’t even Spanish.
In Bolivia, there are 36 official languages, up here in the altiplano, Quechua and Aymara are the two most commonly used, and that still didn’t help me out much.
10th April Thursday
I had good trip, arrived in La Paz about 9am to a crazy city. It’s a big town and the traffic is pure havoc. The pollution from the trucks and cars here is a big problem, and the number of vehicles on the roads around the city is worse than Sydney, no road rules or right of way to anything or anybody. It’s the most expensive place I’ve been in so far in Bolivia. Found a room at a place called Hostel Austria, 40 bols a night in a very, very basic room. I ventured off into the city to get some maps and info on how to travel around this part of the country. Lonely planet gave the name of a tour company that specialises in this sort of travelling. They advise and also conduct tours all over this part of South America. The guys were great in giving me advice on where to go, which way would be best and also what to see on the way. I found a place that had good maps on Bolivia and a shop that had traditional music CD’s.
They say that when you travel, expect the unexpected, well twice today it happened to me. Firstly, I was confronted by a well dressed lady advising me to watch out for pick pocketers, they are really bad here. We spoke for a while and she asked me where did I come from, she was a International Lawyer and had been to America and Europe but not Australia. She then invited me to a concert with her that was being held in town tonight. It was a symphony orchestra from America playing classical music. She gave me her office telephone number to ring if I was interested, the tricky bit was, she also gave me her home phone number for some strange reason. I think I’ll play my own music in my room tonight instead. A little while later I saw two motorcycle cops force this taxi into the curb right in the busiest main road of town which was an experience to watch right in front of me, standing on the medium strip. Next minute you could see that he was dressed up looking like a national police officer, which you see on the streets all the time, they are every where you look. He may have been an off duty cop making some extra money or he could be one of the people Lonely planet tell you to watch out for. They stop you and ask for I.D. and passport, then do a runner with your valuables. He was escorted off to the police station with two cops in the car with him and a motorcycle cop escort. I’m not really impressed with La Paz. The city reminds me a bit of cities in India, total havoc and not much to see in and around the town except for the churches and the old colonial building. I found out what I needed to know, so I will move on tomorrow to Oruro, where I will stay for a day or two, working out if I can get the train down to Uyuni and do the salt lake trek back to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I may then look at going across into Argentina to Salsa and down to Mendoza before heading back into Chile.
11th April Friday
I changed my mind and decided to stay here a little bit longer. I feel a little bit alone travelling this time, all the younger people seem to be in their own little world, they say hello and that’s it. Travelling these days is so much different now to the old days, everybody these days are into the internet and eating out all the time, they drink a lot more and some fly from one place to the next. I guess things do change, I’ll be glad to see the bike and start travelling my way, camping out and doing what I want to do, stopping when I see a place I like and start to meet the local people a lot more in the rural areas. The way the backpackers are travelling now is getting on a bus and just going from town to town, they can’t stop in the middle to see the countryside or take photos, it’s a lousy way to see a country, and you tend to miss the best places to see.
I went to the witch’s market area of town to try and find out about riding the bike down the Death Valley road. It’s about 64 kms long and drops about 3800 metres. I saw some photos of some push bikers doing a trip and its hairy in some parts. On one bend you can see a bus going around a corner with the bikers on the outside edge of the bend with about 2metres to the edge of a 900 metre drop over the side. I’m told it is not used by many people now, they have a new safer road to use as there used to be too many accidents and too many people being killed by either the buses overtaking each other or the bikers were travelling to fast down the hill. I found out a lot about the local areas to go and visit with the bike and there are also a couple of good tours that I may look at doing, one goes right down into the Yungas area and another goes over to the Sajama National Park, which has the highest peak in Bolivia, there are three mountains in the park, one is Sajama at 6542metres high, Pomerape at 6222 and Parinacota at 6132 metres high. Either now or later I will go and see these mountains. Another trek goes down into the Amazon area of Bolivia to a place called the Pampas jungle trekking area, it looks good also, and I can get there to the start of the trek on the bike.
This whole country relies on markets and street stalls; I have never seen so many street vendors in my whole life like Bolivia. Every street has stalls and every town has a couple of big and I mean big market places. There is a lot of poverty in this country and I guess the stalls are one way for people to make a little money to survive on. There are a large number of beggars in every street and millions of shoe shiners. I noticed a lot of blind people walking around and when you ask somebody for directions with the town map, they have to nearly hold the map against their noses to see the writing. I guess eye problems are a big issue for these people. I met a man and his son on the walking bridge late this afternoon, he stopped and asked me where I was from and we had a chat for a while. He told me he lives at the Tiwanaku area where this home overlooks the ruins of the people that lived there dating back to about AD700. You can see the large stone entrance to the site from his front door, and he said his father has some very old books on the history of the area in his house. He was a nice guy and gave me his card and asked if I was travelling through that way, would I like to stop there for a day or so, have a meal with his family and he would love to show me around the ruins. The card was his wives business card, she is a well to do hair dresser and he seemed genuine enough, I may take him up on his offer when I get back here again. This is what I like about travelling, meeting nice people and having the time to stop and enjoy the experience of seeing how they live and just talking to them about their own country, it’s great fun. I have booked a tour on Sunday to go up to a mountain peak not far from town and have a bit of a look around, it’s about 6000 metres high, and after that, we go to the place called Valle de la Lunar.
Tomorrow is catch up day on emails and postcards, the post offices are still on strike here, this must be going on now for over three weeks and there is no end in sight yet, it’s quite amazing that the country can still run ok without a mail service.
12th April Saturday
I left early today with the Hostel manager with the aim of trying to find a tour company that had a tour going up to the mountain. The company he was involved with didn’t have enough people to do a tour today. After a bit of foot slogging I finally found a shop that had a tour going. It cost 85 bols for the day, they pick you up and take you to the peak and then back to the valle. It will be good if we can as far as the Lake Titicaca. I found a shop that sells the old kerosene cooker after a lot of asking questions. I have been told that metho is not a common item in these parts of South America. It’s a pretty late model and it is robust enough for what I need it for.
I had my first fake police incident this afternoon. I was walking around town looking for a bread shop, when this young girl came up from behind me and asked if I know where San Pedro was, it’s a suburb of La Paz. I kept on walking until I got to the corner and started to show her which way to go, when this guy dressed up in a bad fitting suit came across the road and started to ask me questions like, where did I come from and was I a tourist. He then flashed this wallet at me with a photo and a badge in it, he told me he was a tourist policeman, I knew straight away he was a fake, so I pushed my hand at him and told him to piss off and then I walked across the street, I was just waiting for him to grab me and handcuff me, I may have been wrong, but I wasn’t giving him any documents no matter what. I turned around and saw the two of them rushing off down the street in the other direction, thank God for that. Once again it was instinct, you have to learn really quickly, who is good and who is corrupt, a skill that did me well, for most of this trip.
You know, it doesn’t’t matter how old you are or how much you have travelled, when things like this happen, I guess this when you change. I have seen a little bit of this world and it is sad when all you want to do is see the world as it is, the way people live, the beautiful scenery, the animals in the wild, and the different cultures of these countries. I have seen poverty, the poor, I have seen families that live on the footpaths of towns, like in India, I have tasted the good and the bad food, I have been cold, I have slept in cold wet places trying to save a dollar or two, I have slept in some crazy places, it’s all a part of the experience, what I don’t like, is the scum that try to rip you off, the arseholes that won’t work, and spend their lives, hassling good folk. Unfortunately, it is everywhere and we can’t change it. It does sometimes get me down, when I travel alone, you are at more of a risk then in a group, that is something you have to decide on when you want to travel, how and who are you going to travel with.
Sunday the 13th April.
It was such a pleasure to get out of town today. I booked a tour yesterday to go up the mountain called CHACALTAYA which is part of the CORDILLERA REAL-LA PAZ mountain range going North West of La Paz. This is the only place in the Andes where this whole mountain range from the north to the south is split. The northern range, which does go right up into Alaska, stops on the northern side of La Paz and the southern range, which goes all the way down to Ushuaia in Argentina starts on the south west side, just north of the mountain called Volcan Sajama . When we come back down we will then go over the other side of the city and have a look at the Valle De La Lunar.
I was ready to go at 8.15 and I was getting pretty anxious at 9.00 wondering if I had been ripped off and whether or not they were going to pick me up, it was about 6 degrees outside the hostel, the good thing was it was clear skies above. Finally this nice couple arrived in a mini bus and off we went with about 10 people aboard.
This country is filled with beauty where ever you go, once you leave the cities and towns. Today was no exception; the road up to the mountain was as I expected, pretty rough but it was worth the rattling of the mini bus to see what we saw. The road was gravel and as we ascended up the mountain it meandered and zigzagged its way to the summit, having a couple of photo stops on the way. We arrived at the summit of Chacaltaya which is 5305 metres high with a walk up the hill of another 300metres, total altitude of 5605 metres high. I actually felt for the first time a bit dizzy and wonky.
The view was spectacular, on one side you could see the summit of the Cordillera Real, you could see HUAYNA POSOSI AT 6088 METRES, it is very close to where we were, and on the other side of the hill we could see the peak of SERRANIS MURILLO at 5421 metres, both these peaks and all the other peaks on this whole mountain range all had snow coverings.
The other spectacular mountains in view were the two peaks called Illampu at 6,362 m and Illimani at 6,462m high.
I went off on my own for a walk about 1 km away to a place where I just sat and looked up and around at a glacier that, up to 80 years ago was the main water supply for La Paz. It is now slowly becoming less full of water each year, they told me the snow is slowly getting less on the mountains every year, which in time will be a major problem for the city people of La Paz. It was so quiet and the scenery made me just stop and look, it was stunning. I realised then, that another thing I love to see is snow capped mountains, they always look so breathtaking to me, so pure in every way, the pure clean snow and the sun reflecting off the sides of the mountains, the rays of the sun cutting through the broken clouds and sending down sunrays like spotlights onto the snow. Watching the clouds that drift into the rock and somehow seem to rise and glide over the ridges so smoothly, no human can make scenery like this.
Mother Nature at her best once again.
A short time later I was looking up at the peaks and I suddenly realised it had started to snow; I couldn’t believe it was happening, sitting on this magnificent peak and being snowed on. When the bus came down to pick me up, everybody was laughing at the nice snow covering I had on, just sitting on the side of the road. By the time we left the summit you couldn’t see any of the peaks at all. The other sight you could see when we first got to the summit was Lago Titicaca, which is about 60-70 kms away. Its northern edge is in Peru.
I was the only person by myself again on this tour, and I really feel sometimes that I’m being left out of many things, like conversations and at times when people go off and take photo’s etc. it is hard to try and enjoy the trip on your own, when it would be so nice to have some company to share the experience with. Not only that, it would be good to discuss different ideas and options of what to do and where to go with somebody else, I guess that is something I’m going to have to live with. It won’t be as bad on the bike, as I will meet many different people along the way and the bike is a good way to start up a conversation with anybody.
The Valle de la Lunar is a very unusual place to see. It’s got these tall peaks up to about 15 metres high and is the remains of erosion in the soil which is like clayie conglomerate solidified mud. It does look like a place you would find on the moon or some outer space planet. It was a nice walk to finish off a really great day in Bolivia once again. One fact I found out today was, from the centre of the city which has been built down in a valley to the outer suburbs up on the top of this massive plateau is about 1000 metres difference.
I am going to miss my old friend San Francisco, he’s one of the desk staff here, he is such a pleasant man to talk to and nothing is a problem for him, no matter what you ask him about or if you need to know something, if he doesn’t know, he will find out, a real honest helpful gentleman. Early night tonight, as I am leaving for Oruro sometime tomorrow.
There is probably a lot I could write about La Paz, but for me, cities are places to visit for a few days and then get to hell out of it, it is the capital city of Bolivia, a lot of people down in the south of the country, want Santa Cruz to be their capital city, this conflict will never go away I guess. Cochabamba is a nice place to visit also, famous for its musical influence and the birth place of many famous Bolivian musicians.
Monday, 14th April.
I was lucky to see my old mate San Francisco this morning before I left, he was kind of sad to see me go, he said “you are still leaving today “ wasn’t real happy at all. I got to the bus station thinking, here we go again, trying to ask for a bus ticket to Oruro, it worked out fine, I managed to see a bus company advertising buses to Oruro leaving at 9.30 am for 10 Bols, a 3 .5 hour trip. The guy even walked me around to the bus bay and took my big bag up stairs to the front seat.
It’s 10 past 8 at night now whilst I’m writing about these last few days events and there is another local parade going past the hotel outside. It was pouring down with rain late this afternoon and it’s about 5 degrees outside and they are still having a parade with it drizzling with rain. There’s crackers going off everywhere and people all over the place. It must be another celebration for the schools here, as I reckon there must be 500 or 600 kids parading down the street. There are three different bands playing music, one with big drums and trumpets, one with drum sticks and drums with the wind pipes and one with just a big heap of drums bagging their hardest. Bolivian’s are well known for liking parades; this one was similar to ones in Potosi and Sucre. Somebody told me Bolivian schools like to celebrate different Catholic Saint’s birthdays and holy days, any reason to hold a parade.
Anyway, back to the diary, it was a great trip as we travelled along the highway in another area of the high altiplano country of Bolivia; it’s the flat high country in the mountain ranges. Once you leave La Paz it flattens out and this is the area where the people in the small villages grow plots of different types of crops for their food. It looked like wheat and other grain crops, small in height but fairly thick. In some places you could see the growers bending over and cutting handfuls of grain stalks and laying them down in heaps on the ground to dry, they had been doing this all day long by the amount of heaps on the ground, other people were tending flocks of sheep and some others again had herds of sheep and lama’s and alpaca’s all together grazing on the old stacks of already cut crops. The thing that stunned me was that there is not a tree to be seen for miles, they just sit out in the sun all day long in the middle of nowhere, tending their animals. It struck me as how hard these people are to survive in this barren, dry flat open country, living in houses that are so basic, little mud brick houses and one or shops in the whole village. One old fellow was heading back into town with a donkey ladened with cut crops tied to a frame on his back, he was about 3or 4 kms out of town, if I was on the bike I would have stopped in the village like this for a while, just to see what went on in this isolated town.
I have described before what it was like when I first arrived in Bolivia down in the flat open plains, this is similar but very much higher, the scenery is the same. Stunning flat open plains with snow capped mountains in the background.
Arrived in Oruro about lunchtime, found a bed for the night and went over to the railway station and booked a seat on the train for tomorrow afternoon that goes down to Uyuni. This stretch of railway line is the only remaining rail network left running in Bolivia. It takes about 8 hours travelling and is the same price as the bus, the good thing is the train leaves at 3.30 pm and the bus leaves at night.
It’s a fairly tidy little town compared to some of the places I have stayed in and pasted through, I’m staying in the Alojamiento Copacabana which is directly opposite the railway station and I can even now hear the little hooters of the train engines shunting goods wagons around the train yards. It’s a fairly rich town because of the mineral rich ranges that surrounds the town. The hotel is very clean, small rooms but neat and tidy. The owner is well known for sleeping at the front gate in a little office, just to keep an eye on things. I’m looking forward to the train trip tomorrow, and getting a tour organised in Uyuni to trek across the salt flats on my way back to Chile. I may then look at going across to Argentina to Salsa and heading down south a bit more; we’ll see what happens when I get to San Pedro de Atacama.
Tuesday, 15th April.
Did the usual walking tour of the town, sent a heap of postcards and walked for miles. Train day was the centre of attention, the big event of the week for this small town, as it only comes and goes a couple of days a week. I noticed the big police chief hanging around the station as if he was the main man. He was overseeing the whole process of ensuring that everything ran smoothly, as it has done for the past 100 years. The engine backed onto the carriages, about 8 all up. I was expecting an old steam driven engine, like in India, but it was a diesel job, we left right on 3.30 pm to the minute. I got a ticket in the second class carriages as I was told about the confusion and the mayhem in 3rd class.
Getting on this train reminded me of my train adventure back in Madras in 1980. I wanted to see the real India, and one way to do this was by train. I booked, on a Thursday, a 3rd class ticket to New Deli. This trip was to take me about 2.5 days right through the heart of India.
The people at the hostel told me I was crazy, tourist only travels 1st class, you get a nice soft seat, you can get meals on the train and if you pay extra, you can have a sleeping bunk.
I decided on a wooden seat with the locals, no food delivered back here, we were on the end of the train, 4 carriages then the wagon carriages that took the luggage, then it was 2nd class then 1st class, it was just me and a bunch of locals.
Now, the thing was, when I booked on Thursday after a long wait and a fairly long queue, my name and details were put on this form and stuck on a wire post with about 100 others, I thought that, that was a waste of time. Sunday night at 20 to 7 I arrived at the station, with a local hostel guy pleading me to change my ticket to 1st class or at least 2nd class, we walked the train and finally there she was, my name on the click board on the side of the carriage, amazing paperwork. At 5 secs to 7 pm we started to move out, right on time, leaving on time here is always perfect, arriving on time is another thing.
Just imagine this, here I am sitting on a wooden seat with 4 or five other people in this double sided seat section, the whole carriage is full of just everyday Indians, they were all just staring at me all night long, no one said a word to me until the next morning when we all finally broke the ice. In my compartment were 3 young guys from Sri Lanka and this old Indian man, they were also, all going to Delhi. The young guys were going to Uni up there and the old guy lived in Delhi. As the day went on, we started to talk about ourselves, it was great to hear their stories. I eventually ordered some food some how and after about an hour, this tray of rice and curry arrived. It had made it through the luggage carriage but it was half gone and stone cold. We all decided that I must try the local food, so from then on, we all ate from the hawkers on the station, this is the only way to eat local food, we ate all sorts of stuff, some good, some I won’t even try to describe. Chi was great, tea in throw away clay pots; I managed to save a few of these as a reminder of this journey. The trouble was, when I first saw these cups which were made out of clay, they were formed into rough sided tea cups, the idea was to drink the tea and then throw the cup out of the window, oh, no, not me. I started to keep this wobbly looking one, then another one because it had a better shape and this one and that one, this went on until I had over a dozen of these things stashed all over the place. The guys thought this was very funny until I decided I had got enough, so then, I would buy a tea, drink it and then throw it out of the window also, that made them laugh a lot.
Whenever I was sitting at the window and we would stop and buy food, it was a big argument with the hawkers, they would try and charge me twice the price for food, this annoyed my colleagues to no end, so when it was going to happen at any time, I would bend down under the window, they would buy the food and then I would sit back up and thank the hawker, they would still try and rip me off, it was a joke the whole carriage would always laugh at.
The countryside changed so much during the day, we went through small villages and big towns, I had a running description of the areas we were going through, this place is all rice growing areas, and this place is this, and so on. I had a few good friends to talk to and I loved it, we would change seats every so often so we all got a good view of the scenery, the nights were long and very uncomfortable, but they were as
tired as I was every morning, trying to sleep in an upright position all night is not easy for anyone. This whole trip was a great experience for me, all of the folk in the carriage would smile at me, as I would get up and walk the carriage to stretch my legs,
even when I would go and try and use the toilet. Most of the time, when we got to a station, the guys would ask someone where the toilets were and then I would do a dash and try and get back on before the train left again, it was kind of fun, doing it this way.
One of the main aims for me travelling anywhere is to hear and see all about the country I am travelling in, on this train that is exactly what happened. When I spoke to the old man, he told me all about his childhood, where he lived and how his family survived, how he got a job and started his own family, he told me about the lives of the people in his village, he was maybe 70 years old and loved to talk. He told me about the beggars on the streets, how some people would deform their children when they were young, they would deform their babies so that when they grew up, they would become beggars on the streets, kids with bent up arms, broken legs, some really bad things used to happen back then and believe me , still do happen. We talked about when the British were there, how he learnt good English at school, he would always explain the food we got off the station hawkers, what was in it and so on, the young guys talked about Sri lanka, about the war that is still going on up the north with India, (this I was to see for myself later on) The old man told me about the north of India, the desert people out in Punjab, the big camel markets held out there every year, the tea plantations up in the mountains, how they picked the tea leaves etc, it was all very good conversations, informative and sometimes quite funny.
They loved to hear me talk about my life in Australia.
At about 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon, we finally arrived in New Delhi train station.
We all packed up our gear and started to say hurray to each other, I started to pick up my bags when the old fellow told me to go to the door and get off the train, I told him I had to get my gear off also, no, he just persisted for me to get off the train, then the young guys took my bags and just stood there waiting for me to get off. I went to the door and they followed me, I got onto the platform and still, they wouldn’t give me my bags. Finally, the old man came up, grabbed my small bag and started to walk with me along the station.
The young guys followed me in a line, each one carrying something of mine, and then I clicked on to what was going on.
The old man told me that they were very proud to have met me and this was their way of showing their gratitude to me for taking the seat I took and sharing their lives and their wooden seated train with them.
So, off I walked right down through the crowds on the platform, me in front, the old man behind me and the 3 young guys behind him all in a straight line.
You could see the looks on the people’s faces as we paraded past them all, me up front with my entourage following, they must have thought, who is this guy, the thing that they didn’t know about was; I was a nobody, but I took the trip as the normal Indians did and this was their way of thanking me, man did we laugh all the way to the exit gate.
This is how I love to see a country and it’s people, the ticket cost about $4.50, the experience was worth millions, we finally stopped and said our goodbyes, the old guy gave me a big hug and we all went our separate ways, I hope and like to think that this trip with me being there, may have made their day; I know they had made mine.
Back to Bolivia.
We rolled straight out of town and then headed across this massive reedy lake. We went for miles along this small rocky built up rail pass. The lake was filled with all sorts of wild birdlife, hundreds of ducks and a few small fishing boats, it was quite nice scenery. We then rolled along further and got back onto the wide open flat plains again with the massive snow capped mountains in the background. Once again we passed these little settlements out in the middle of nowhere, lamas in big groups being shepherded back into the village from being out in the flats all day, seems to be the go in all of these places, somebody takes the herd out for the day and walks around them keeping them together and lets them just graze the wide open flats. We arrived in Uyuni about 10.25 pm, right on time. Then the mayhem started again, lots of backpackers rushing to grab their backpacks and then racing to the hotels looking for a room. Lucky for me I had the sense for the first time to ring a hotel right near the railway station and booked a room earlier on in the morning. 30 bols a night, it was clean and had hot showers between 7am and 9 pm, I booked in and went and got a coffee and off to bed.
Wednesday 15th April.
Had breakfast and started to check out the many tour companies around town doing the salt flats and lagoon treks. Found the one recommended by the Aussie girl a week or so ago. It was a good price and the people looked very professional. I chose a trip that was three days and two nights, I reckon that would be long enough to see what I wanted to see. The lady selling me the tour advised me to go and get myself a locally woven lama or Alpaca jacket before I left as it does get fairly cold out there of a night time, so she told me. I walked around town and finally found a place that had good alpaca woven jackets at a really good price. I ended up getting a zip up and a pull over jacket for $22 Aus. Someone also told me that it WILL be very cold at the second night’s camp and to go prepared. Had all my washing done and returned the same day for $2, I had to be ready to go by 10.30am in the morning, so I got a cheap bag to put the small amount of things I needed for the trip in and I could leave all my other stuff with the tour company. Walking around the town I was surprised with how clean this end of town was compared to the end I arrived in when I first came through here on my way to Potosi.
Thursday 16th April.
By 10.30 am it was all go, there were 6 of us on board with the driver, we were packed up in this old Toyota and on the road by 11 am. There were 3 Israeli’s, a guy and his girlfriend from Sweden and me, being the only solo person, I was lucky enough to get the front seat. A local guy called Willy was our driver, cook and guide, he couldn’t speak a word of English, but we were lucky that one of the Israel’s spoke reasonable Spanish; they all spoke good English also. The car was a bit of a heap and Willy wasn’t really well organised, as we had to make a few stops around town before we left, we had to pick up spare tyres and had to stop for food and then another stop for his gear, finally we arrived at our first site to see which was the train cemetery a few kms out of town. What an historic place this was, it is the grave yard of all the old trains that used to be used in this area about 50 to 60 years ago. There is about two kms of old engines and a large variety of water carriages and all sorts of other rail wagons, it’s a really an usual place to see such a collection of old railway equipment, in such good condition as there is isn’t much moisture in the air up here to rust out all of this gear. Had about half an hour there and then we were off to the salt flats!!
The Salar de Uyuni ( also known as the Uyuni Great Salt Flats )is amazing; it’s just one big dead flat dried out salt lake that covers an area of about 15,000 sq. km. 16,000 years ago, it was a great salt lake, then as time went on, it dried up and is now classed as the world’s largest salt deposit basin.
In the rainy season, it does actually flood over, and then dries out dead smooth once again. We travelled straight out onto the salt and drove for about 20kms before we came to this place which, is a hotel made out of salt blocks, sitting in the middle of nowhere. We had a ten minute stop and then off again to the next unusual building which was another rest stop also made of salt, this is where we had our lunch. The amazing thing about this lake is that when you take a photo out here, there is no solid background or perspective to go by and things come out in the photos really weird. One good photo was to get someone to lie on the salt and then somebody else, standing in front of the camera with a coke bottle on an angle in their hand take a photo. The photo would look like the person was carrying the big bottle of coke. We had some fun there and then we were off again for a few more kms to a place called INCAHUASI ISLAND or Cactus Island.
This small island is out on its own and is literally covered with nothing but massive cacti and fossilized algae. It is now a reserve and you have to pay to walk up to the lookout, which is worth it as you can salt flats for miles and nothing else. Off again and now we were headed to a place to stay for the night called San Juan, a small village off the salt and heading south towards the lagoons area. Once again we have travelled through some beautiful countryside, some rocky mountains with snow caps, down through into the flat open plains with small rivers meandering along the valley floor, very scenic landscape. We put our gear in this small house area that had a couple of rooms for tourist, a small room to eat in and cold showers if you were game enough to try. We were lucky enough to get there when the herds of Lama were coming back into town and heading for the water hole just on the edge of town. It looked like an artesian well surrounded with a concrete wall. I managed to get my first close up photos of the Lamas. The only other animal I saw that day was one of those rabbit looking animals with the extra long tail. Had a great meal and we were all off to bed, as it was turning very cold. A great day had by all.
Early start, a bit of breakfast, packed up and headed off about 7 am. We were on our way to start and see the lagoons which there were many of to see. The roads were very rough gravel and we drove over small mountain ranges, we passed through some nice rocky gorges and then onto open flat plains again. Amazing scenery to drive through, we stopped many times to see some of the most unusual colored lagoons, one was a pink, one was red, one had a tinge of deep blue colour to it and we wondered through some stunning abandoned old villages along the way.
About lunch time we managed to get to one large lagoon that was filled with the quite beautiful pink flamingos, we couldn’t get really close to them but saw how beautiful they were, it was also very windy and cold so we didn’t stop for too long.
In the late afternoon we got to the National Park that is the flamingo bird reserve and also the famous red lagoon. It is a very large salt flat lagoon in a massive deep valley, the red appearance of the water comes from red micro organisms that live in the water, giving it sometimes, a very deep red colour. Nice spot to see, just over the next mountain in the next valley is our next overnight stop. We arrived and unpacked at about 4 pm. Had a coffee and a walk, I actually tried to get over to the edge of the lagoon before the sunset to get a photo of the salt layer that was, in this lagoon about 3-4 feet thick, I enjoyed the quietness of the rugged mountain scenery around me, but made the mistake of taking a fast walk back to the hut. Even just a steady walk over a short distance at this height can really knock the crap out of you, you feel like you’ve done a marathon. Headed back to the warmth of the hut and we played cards to tea time. Basic meal of soup and chicken and rice was served followed by a big mug of tea. Soon after tea, it was getting very cold and I decided to go to bed early, as we were leaving at 4 am in the morning to get to the Geysers to see the sunrise, it is supposed to be quite spectacular with a nice sunrise, and with the right clouds on the horizon with the steam coming off the geysers, a sight well worth to see.
Well this was the plan.
Today was a day that some people would write a book about.
Today’s plan was to all get up at 3.30 am, pack up the Toyota and head out towards the Geysers by 4am. The idea was to get to the geysers first, so we would have the best spot to watch the sunrise with all the steam and mist coming off the hot streams of water shooting into the air. We got up, had a drink and headed off, man it was so cold. About 5 kms out of the small town in what felt like about zero degrees, this was confirmed when we crossed the first small creek that was frozen solid; the water was just solid ice as was the two water bottles that were left in the truck over night.
The amazing thing about this creek was the way the water had flowed slowly over the rocks and bit by bit froze solid, which made the whole creek look like a snap frozen rippling river, as the water flowed over a rock that was already frozen; it just layered ice on top of ice. We drove on out of the river and then the next minute we had a massive amount of steam coming out from under the hood and a high pitched sound of steam. To me it sounded like the old radiator was just boiling, but I was wrong. One of the heater hoses coming out from the back of the engine had a big split in it and we had lost all of the radiator water.
It was 4.15 am and we were stopped on this wide open rocky flat plain, pitch black dark and broken down. Then the fun began, we all got out seeing what was going on when we started to feel like we had just walked into a big freezer. The air was so cold on my face it kind of stung a bit. Willy the driver was rolling around under the car trying to find the split in the hose and work out how he was going to fix it. Only problem was he didn’t have a lot of tools, in fact his tool box was a small bag consisting of two screwdrivers, a couple of small spanners and a heap of old seals. He didn’t even have a torch with him to see what he was doing, so I got a headlamp off one of the Swedes and tried to hold a light for him to try and get this hose off. By now I was really feeling the cold on my face, hands and my toes, I was shaking pretty badly. We finally got the hose off and he tried to wrap tape around it to seal it off and then thinking this is going to fix it all up, went to put it back on. I could not believe he thought that just a bit of electrical tape wrapped around the rubber pipe was going to fix it.
He started up the engine again and off she blew again. I must say here that we didn’t have much spare water for him with us!
He then decided to take the whole hose off again and block the engine hole up with a piece of rubber seal that belonged to somewhere else off the truck. We cut it to shape and jammed it in the hole and bolted the hose fitting back on, mean while all the guys were in and out of the truck as we didn’t know which was the coldest, in the cold car or standing out in the open on solid ice rocks. I was helping him now for about an hour when we finally decided to try the engine again. We all jumped back in and started the engine once again thinking that we had fixed the problem when we noticed the temp gauge needle go right off the dial. It was then that I knew that the water in the radiator was frozen because we had been stopped for so long. The water we used to refill the radiator the second time was actually our own drinking water as Willy didn’t carry any spare water at all. Next job was to get some rags soaked in engine oil and wrapped them around a long stick ,I lit it up with my cigarette lighter as Willy didn’t have any matches and then he laid down on the frozen ground waving this flame all along the bottom of the radiator trying to melt the frozen water. This went on for about another hour with about four different attempts of heating the core, which also burnt some of the electrical wiring that ran along the top front bit of the radiator. It was past a joke now. All the guys and especially the girls were way past the point of just being cold; we were all numb from our feet to our heads. I could not move my feet from the ankles down, they were stinging and wouldn’t move at all, my fingers were stinging on the ends and my nose was red. The guys got some of these small reedy like bushes and we tried to light them up but they burned out very quickly, so we all started to jump up and down in the one spot trying to get our blood going down to our feet. Finally, after about 2 and a half hours of trying to get the car going the sun finally started to rise. We got the car going again and we told Willy that we had to go back to the hut so the guys could get warm again and have something hot to drink. When I took my boots off, the rubber heel of the boot was so cold, it was like touching an ice block. I could have hammered a nail in a piece of wood with the heel, it was that hard.
After a drink and a warm up we headed out the same way again, only this time we got about 10 kms down the road when the tappets started to make a sound we all didn’t want to know about. It was obvious that the engine had suffered some major damage from the earlier incident. The plan was to now turn around and head straight back to Uyuni which was about 350 kms away. It was about a five hour journey in a good running car. Our car was running on about 2 cylinders and we had lost most of the engine power. We travelled for about 4 hours stopping about 8 times, not only to fill the leaking radiator with our drinking water but also to get out and try and push the heap of shit up over some of the small hills we tried to go over. At one time we had rocks that we literally jammed under the back wheels to stop the car from rolling backwards while Willy revved the shit out of the motor to try and get it to move a couple of more metres up the hill.
We finally got to this place that was like a truck stop. There was nothing there but a few old sheds and this old guy that didn’t want to know us at all. I talked Willy into trying to get the spark plugs out so we could clean them and maybe fix some of the problem. What’s a spark plug spanner was the look on his face. After about an hour of scratching around I found a piece of thin pipe from a chair leg, which I very gently tapped over the spark plug with a broken piece of truck spring and finally managed to remove the plugs one by one. Two plugs had no gap at all and the other 4 hadn’t seen daylight from the time the car was manufactured. While I was doing all of this stuff with Willy, the other guys were pulling up all of the other returning trek vehicles, trying to get some of them to give us all a lift back into Uyuni and leave Willy and his heap of shit where it belonged stuck out here in the desert. It’s hard to believe how so many cars passed us and the ones that did stop, didn’t even want to know us standing on the side of the road broken down. We finally got one bloke to take the two Swedes back with him into town and they were going to tell the travel agent to get another car out here to pick us up as we had no intention of spending another night out in this cold piece of country.
Amazingly, after about another hour or so we finally had the old car fired up and sounding ok, so it was a mad dash to get our gear in, tied it all down and off we went. We travelled a different way back going from small village to village in case we broke down again. This was a good move as we saw some beautiful country; even saw a bird that looked like a small Emu grazing near a waterhole. After a few more stops we finally made it to the main highway and on our way back into town. We got to Uyuni just about nightfall, where we had a bit of a reception party waiting for us. The travel agent I booked with dragged me straight over to the booking office and shut the door, while the other guys went back to their agent’s office and tried to sort out a refund. I explained to my agent how I was a mechanic for the day after having my arse frozen off at 4 in the morning, not seeing the geysers and not having any food all day and how pissed off I was with Willy and his piece of shit. She was all apologies and we finally agreed on a refund of $25.00. The other guys were arguing with their agent for about 2 hours before they agreed on a $20.00 refund. We all went to a café to celebrate with a bottle of beer each and a hamburger. It was one hell of a day that none of us will ever forget. The Swedes were amazed that we actually got the car going and made it back to Uyuni so soon. I was thanked by everyone for doing what I did to help get us back to Uyuni not only in one piece but also saving us the tumour of one more night out in the wilderness without proper accommodation.
A very, very easy day for all of the crew. I went back around to my agent and got the rest of my refund back minus 1 dollar. I didn’t care, it was all sorted as far as I was concerned and that was that, the whole experience was worth the dollar. Did the washing by hand and took it easy as I had a 6 o’clock bus to catch in the morning for Tupiza, the original Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid country.
Another event filled day in Bolivia. We were supposed to get a 4 wheel drive bus to get us to Tupiza which is the normal way here as the road down south from here is well noted for being the roughest bus route in this part of the country. Sorry, but there is no bus, not enough people booked on it, so we were given a Toyota to get us there. It has the same seating as our other vehicle which is two long seats in a back and a normal seat in the front. There were seven of us and I was lucky to get the front seat again. Off we went and this was ok travelling until we got to a place along the road where we actually went off the main road and headed along this old river bed. It was a deep gorge that had been gouged out of the mountain millions of years ago. We crisscrossed along the small running river for about an hour until we got to this small village that was actually sitting on the edge of this ravine. Along the river bed we travelled parallel to the train tracks, it had me stunned to what happens when it becomes the rainy season. We stopped in this small train station kind of town and everybody got out of the car, getting their gear off the bus?
There was I and the two Swedes from the salt trip and a girl from Holland wondering what the hell was going on. We finally found out that we were being transferred to a BUS from here into Tupiza, but we had to wait 2 hours for this event to happen. After asking around, we found a place to have some breakfast. Over the hill was the railway station, a really old rustic place that had not changed much, since it was built, a long time ago. It was great, we had coffee and these deep fried dough bread like things, they were sweet in taste and hot to eat, and went down really well. Finally, we were off again on a bus. The next four hours were filled with travelling in some beautiful mountainous country, the road weaved its way up and down the valleys with some sections of the road being scratched out of the sides of the hills and I mean scratched out, in some places there wasn’t enough room for two cars to pass each other, let alone two buses. At one spot, I was sure the grazing cow on the road was going to get pushed over the edge. His front two legs were over the edge of the road. It is what anybody would call the American West country, just beautiful to travel in, whether in a bus or on a horse. We finally arrived in Tupiza about 2.30pm. After a hell of a walk to about 4 hostels we finally found one which was reasonably priced. It was called the Centro and was 30 bols a night for me in a twin room, neat and tidy and is in the centre of town. I found a tour place that offered two horse riding treks, one was for 7 hours at 150 bols and one was for two days at 400 bols. I ran into the Swedes and they offered to pay the difference on the trek they had paid for if I would come with them as they both have never ridden big horses before, so I agreed and we were booked on a 7 hour horse trek in the morning and I had saved 60 bols. It was a great day to travel as we did, by horse, through the middle of this town and onto the open gravel tracks that took us through this absolutely beautiful countryside in this part of Bolivia. I had a feed and a walk around town as it is the warmest place I have been in so far in Bolivia, slept like a log in a bed that was a real sort of bed.
Now I really know what it was like for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. We got to our horses in a side street in the middle of town at 10.15 am and saddled up with our guide called Christian, all of 15 years old and headed out of town going South West. The horse I had, seemed to want to go flat out from the time I sat on him, he was a brown stallion, fairly tall and quite frisky, it was going to be a hell of a ride. The Swedes had two smaller quieter horses which turned out to be a good thing as this was their first real horse ride. It was a seven hour trek through some of the wildest canyons close enough to town to let us see all of it in a good days ride and it once again never disappointed me at all. It was fantastic scenery, riding through gorges and massive red rock canyons, along river flats, up and down narrow tracks that the small villages, which have perched themselves on the sides off in these rocky ranges, keeping them close to the running waters of the gorge streams just below. We had a few stops for photos along the way and ended up on this bridge which crossed the river at a pretty wide spot, just about lunch time. It was a beautiful spot, green grass, large shady trees and small tables to eat on. The water was only 30 metres away which was good for the horses which were just let free to graze. 1 hour for lunch and then we were off again, no sore asses yet, but I know it’s coming.
For the next 4 hours we rode along the river bed for a while and then up and around the small farmlets which had crops of grain and different types of vegetables growing in the small plots they had along the sides of the hills. One farmer was actually ploughing up his small plot of ground with two donkeys, pulling a very ancient type of single mouldboard plough. The best part of this trek was once I found the right way to control the horse, I had heaps of trotting stints and then canters, finishing off with a half mile gallop, which Christian seemed to be ok with, especially when I had a race with him along the river bed flats. He was always pulling up with a big smile on his face and you could see he was really enjoying the challenge. As always, when you see how the average family tries to survive in this wild terrain with only the very basic necessities, it makes me feel so lucky to be here. This whole country is a real eye opener if you stop and look on how this race of people can manage to survive with basically, just a small mud brick home, and a lot have no power connected, especially out in the rural areas. A couple of head of animals whether they be lamas, sheep, a cow or two, a herd of goats and a small square plot of ground to try and grow some crops on and add to this an altitude of up to 5000 metres and at times freezing cold. It is common knowledge that the salt flats area and nearby plateaus can get down to – 20 cels in the winter. They are a really nice, placid and quite reserved race of people in some of the most beautiful country side I have ever seen. We arrived back in town late in the afternoon, the Swedes were so glad they did this trip, maybe not tomorrow, but for now, they were smiling. Its 9 pm and my ass is really starting to hurt, my shoulders are feeling a bit stiff also. It’s been another adventurous day in Bolivia.
As I predicted, I woke up late this morning with a very sore behind and a stiff neck, but it was worth every ache I feel now.
Seems like every day there is something to celebrate here in Bolivia in any town I stop in. Today there is a big gathering in the town square, lots of people and school children everywhere. It seems that they are celebrating the Saint of the local school; this is a good time to see the different varieties and the colours of the clothing of the local residents that come to town on these special occasions. The hats of the women fascinate me, so many different styles and how they get those bowler hats to just sit on their heads is quite amazing. I walked down to the bus terminal to check out the times and cost of getting to Salta in Argentina. As usual I have to try and explain my intentions to the non English staff at the desk. I managed to get a ticket for tomorrow afternoon at 2.30 pm arriving in Salta in Argentina at 7.30 am the next morning, that’s life on the bus backpacking trail, 170 bols and a 17 hour bus journey.
I was walking out of the bus terminal and noticed a couple of BMW motorbikes sitting across the street outside of the local hospital. I walked over and started to talk to one of the riders, what a stroke of luck this was. The guys were on a Trans American Bike Tour that starts in Ushuaia and goes all the way up to somewhere in Alaska. It seems that they had two riders in the hospital being checked out for broken bones and chest injuries as they had come off the day before riding from B. A. across to here in Bolivia. It seems that speeding was the cause of one accident as the guy hit a dog and lost it, the other guy for some strange reason rode straight into a barrier gate at one of the road toll gate stops which there are many of here, mainly, on the good main roads and highways here in Sth America. The driver of the backup vehicle told me heaps of tips on what the go was to travel in Sth. America on a bike as this was about his third trip down here. It was so good to have a chat with someone who spoke English and knew what he was talking about. There is a guy in Santiago he told me about that deals with BMW’s and has lots of the common spares needed if I need any. Two of the normal spares you may need are the oil seals for the main swing arm spring and if you are over loaded the springs themselves may go. Southern Moto is the name of his shop and this will be my first stop when I get back into Chile. Not having the bike now is really getting me down a bit as I’m spending money doing things to past the time away while I wait and the fact that Andrew told me a heap of lies is really playing on my mind. I will email him today explaining to him how this delay has stuffed up my plans and how I feel and demand some sort of reimbursement from his company. I am really tired of people just lying and not having any thoughts on how they can stuff people around without any care in the world. Anyway, meeting these bike riders today and having a good talk with them has brightened up my spirits a bit.
I was just sitting here writing away on my diary when I got a visit from the Dutch girl we travelled down here with from Uyuni. It seems that she met up with the Swedes and they all are going to have dinner tonight together before they leave on different buses, and have asked if I would like to join them for a meal, sounds ok.
Tomorrow will be internet day I hope. I am hoping to be able to send attachments back just by coping and not trying to send them through the hotmail email attachment device, it seems too complicated for me to get the hang of how to do it properly, I am not comfortable with using Hotmail yet, but I will have to try and find an easier way to do this sort of mailing system as it is cheaper them postcards and more reliable them the mail system here. Went up town and had a great meal with all the guys. It was probably the best meal I have had so far in Sth. America. It was a full plate of lama meat, vegies all cut up and stir fried with chips on the bottom and two fried eggs on top. This was covered with some slices of hot peppers and salsa.
I walked to the station with the guys as the Dutch girl was a bit hesitant about walking around town at night.
I tried again twice this morning to get a working internet café computer. The first one was ok till the mouse stopped working, the second one had trouble with the enter button being stuck down and there were no letters visible on the buttons. I managed to get a small letter off to Wendy and one to Sue. I also found out that Andrew seems to think that the bike will be here on the 18th May. This is really past a joke about the bike, I feel like killing him, but I will push the point with him to get a refund back. Had to catch the bus at 2.30 pm for the border, it’s about a 3 hour drive down to Villazon, then go and cross the border and wait for the next bus down to Salta which takes about 10 hours. The bus from Tupiza was a local bus and it was one adventurous ride as all the local people catch this bus to get back to their little villages along the way and you never know where or when you have to stop. They cram the bus with all sorts of bags and bundles of everything you can think of, they even had to struggle with a three burner gas barbeque frame that had to put on the roof rack of the bus. The scenery was once again very scenic with the roads carved right out of the side of these massive mountains with the common old mud brick villages popping up everywhere out in the middle of nowhere. We started to descend down a bit off the high plateau which means it will be a bit warmer at night.
Villazon is one hell of a hectic town, being right on the border, lots of people travelling south and this is the area quite well know to the police and customs as the centre of the contraband of illegal items that are being smuggled down into Argentina. I presume it’s things that they don’t pay customs duty on like electrical goods and a lot of Bolivian made clothes, especially the alpaca and lama items, which would sell for a lot more down in Argentina. When I got off the bus you have to go to the bus agent, get them to write you out a second bus ticket, grab one of the trolley guys to cart your bags about 5 blocks down the town road to the Bolivian customs office, get your exit stamp and then continue down the road until you get to the Argentinean customs office, get your entry visa stamp then you have to walk about 500 metres till you get to a transfer bus that takes you into town to the next bus station. After about 3 hours of border crossing drama I finally got onto a decent bus that was headed to Salta. From the Villazon town down to the border is one hell of a market place. There are more street stalls sticking out onto the road here, more then I have ever seen anywhere else before, literally side by side selling as usual, everything you could think off especially Bolivian clothing items, big stacks of jumpers, blankets, table cloths, poncho’s, you name it, they had it for sale.
It was a good bus trip; I managed to get a few hours sleep and actually woke up in Salta after about a three hour nap. It was 4.30 am and nothing was open at the terminal, so I decided to wait it out to daylight before I went and found a hostel. Lucky for me a guy from Melbourne walked out of the terminal and was confronted by a guy with the name of a good cheap place to stay, so we shared a taxi and ended up at a place called “ The Best Hostel in Salta “ It was pretty basic and only cost 20 peso’s a night. I wasn’t impressed with Salta for some reason, it was just another big dirty trashy town, lots of mad drivers and nothing but a big hill to climb for a good view and the museum that houses the three young children mummies that came from up off the mountain top. The view was ok, but the museum was amazing. Archaeologists had found and dug up two sites that had three children buried in these unusual ceremonial positions, which they think were offerings to the gods, one girl was 8.5 years old, the other girl was about six and there was also one small boy. The conditions of the bodies were as if they had just been buried, they were in perfect condition considering that they have been aged at about 1450 BC. I saw two of the mummies in a specially controlled room that had the bodies sitting as they were found. They have been placed in a cylindrical glass case, so you could walk around and view the whole body. The skin was intact, the hair and the clothing were all as it was found, amazing to be standing there looking at a child that was so old but still looked like she was only asleep. It was an active day, and sleep was going to be good.
I don’t know if you are aware of one of the most amazing things about the Inca culture. They believed that living high in the mountains, put them much closer to their Gods, that is why places like Machu Picchu exit where it does.
It doesn’t matter where you are in this area of South America, if it is an Inca site, it will be as high as they could have possibility have built a town or a place of worship there, and they are probably the best construction engineers that have ever existed. It appears that the children were part of a religious offering to the Gods. It is believed that all three of the children were probably drugged, as they are sitting in a crouched position with their hands clasped together and are all looking upwards. The detail in the girls clothes is amazing, she is a sweet looking young girl, she had a couple of very small dolls beside her, she, to me looked so innocent and she had very different features in her face to the now typical Inca descendants, She had a very thin narrow face, compared to the more rounded wider faces that I have seen here now.
There was something about that girl that will stay with me forever, she has left a picture in my mind that just makes me try and think , what were these people really like, they were just a group of people that lived a life that one else can ever try to live as they did and where they lived. They were to be part of the Spanish destruction of cultures in all of South America, WHY??????? We humans don’t ever seem to learn from the past.
Another easy day, walked about 4 kms to the bus station and checked on buses out of here tomorrow, there is a local bus heading down to Cafayate at 7 am in the morning, sounds great. I have a choose on going down to Cafayate and then heading over to Tucaman and then a bus down to Mendoza and then back into Chile or just going straight down and across to Santiago. Cafayate was mentioned to me a while ago as a good place to visit and it sounds great in the book, so I’ll take a chance on it being a good spot to visit.
Sunday the 27th April
I was awake at 4.30 am, showered and at the bus station by 5.15. I was booked on the sprinter which turned out to be a mini bus and man didn’t he tramp it all the way down to Cafayate. I was told later that he does this 3 hour trip down and 3 hours back 3 times a day, so I guess he does know the road pretty well. Once again I am blinded by the beauty of this part of the country, it’s just so scenic, it is so hard to describe in words. The mountains are so high and rugged and have some of the most unusual shapes and colours that you could ever imagine in the rocks. The road weaves in and out of the small gorges and canyons; it was like the tar was dropped from a plane and where the tar settled in the valleys that’s where the road is now, a bikers paradise. It’s another place you would just pull up on the bike all day, takes heaps of photos and camp in one of the small narrow valleys for a night or so, it would be really good to see the changing colours of the rocks as the day goes by.
Well, I made a good decision today; Cafayate is one hell of a nice town. As you come out of the mountains onto the flat plains, you start to come into the vineyard country, lots of small farms with grape trellises everywhere. As you come into town it’s like you are entering a strange quiet little ancient Spanish settlement, like you see on the movies.
I got off the bus and we were confronted by this very attractive local girl who offered us all a place to stay for only 20 peso’s a night which turned out to be the place I was planning on staying in anyhow. We loaded up our packs and followed her along this dusty, gravel road until we turned the corner and there it was; the centre of town.
It’s Sunday morning and the streets are all quiet as the whole town is in church, which is easy to tell, by the massive amount of pushbikes leaning up against the wall besides the church massive front steps. The town square is very large, it covers 1 whole block, and it has the tradition statue as a centre piece, probably, a famous war hero, a discoverer, or a Saint of the times.
There are lots of trees shading the many park benches scattered in random about the place, I looked over towards the cafes and shops, and there he was, a local, bum down on the footpath, leaning up against the white rock wall, knees up and hiding under the typical sombre..
We arrived at this cute little hostel, it was called El Balcon and it’s perfect for a good long rest away from the big cities. I spent all Sunday afternoon sitting in the plaza watching the towns people go about their usual lazy Sunday afternoon business which was very laid back. The hostel has 3 floors, a big balcony on the top that gives you a 360 degree view of the whole town and the surrounding mountains.
I booked a seat for a trip by car down the highway to a place called Quilmes, about 55 kms south to the pre –Hispanic Inca ruins which date back to 1000 A.D. They are the best preserved Inca ruins in Argentina, and worth the effort to get down there to see them. The site is about 5 kms from the main road and it’s quite impressive to see how the first lot of houses were built down on the flats and slowly worked their way back up into the hills with the highest building being about 1 km away tucked into the rocky hillside. It was a fairly big community of about 5 thousand people and they had a lot of defensive little outposts hidden high up in the hills above the village, they tell me it was the usual thing to do, outposts to enable the people there to see what was happening down in the valley below, and maybe used as a pre-warning place for when they were being threatened, maybe this was true especially when the stinking Spanish arrived, these huts may have been used as a safe haven and a defensive position trying to keep the Spaniards at bay until about 1667 when they were finally overtaken and all deported to Buenos Aires by the Spanish.
It was amazing to see how they built their homes with these vertical walls, fitting into the rough hillside terrain up to about a metre and a half high, some of the houses were actually built into the ground with the roofs being just above ground level. The houses had very small rooms and lots of narrow hallways leading all over the place going from room to room in the ground, each house had many different shaped rooms, some were square, some oblong and some were perfectly round, I guess each room had it purpose, they were all covered with I guess thatched roofing above. I was informed later on that the walls are actually about 2.5 metres high as the people were quite tall at that time. Walking back up into the hills, I came across another part of the village where the houses up here were so much better built; These ones even had these small rocked hallways and entrances going from room to room and from house to house. It is thought that these homes were for the higher chiefs or priests of the villages, they were a bit closer to the Gods above.
The complete ruins area covered an area of about 30 hectares; and walking around the site you can’t help but wonder how nice it would have been, to be able to actually see how these people lived in such a village so long ago, with the position the site was on and how they could live and also look down into this great big valley below and then in time; watch how the Spanish make numerous attempts to try and conquer them, and finally, they were conquered and another Inca Settlement is destroyed forever
It’s the part of travelling that I love, when you see these historical sites like this one and you walk around and you sit and try to imagine what it was like to live in this era so long ago.
Decided on the BBQ put on by the hostel for tea which was grilled sheep pieces with salad and a few bottles of local vino, it turned out a very late night but nice to catch up with the other backpackers of which there were two Aussies travelling all around South America in 3 months and as you can hear them tell everyone about their drinking nights and how they liked to party ever night, no matter where they were or how much it costs.
They were really nice young guys, here for a short but fun time.
I’m still feeling the effects of the Bolivian cold, and as today is really overcast, windy and misty, I have decided to catch up with the diary and have an easy day, besides; it’s not a good day to take photos of all the gorges with all the different coloured rock formations, maybe tomorrow, as I will be here for a few more days.
The sun’s shining and it’s a great day for a visit to the gorges. There are about 8 stops on the 6 hour trip, most of the best scenery around here is on the road back up north of the town, its where all the best viewing coloured rock creations were made a very long time ago.
The area is known as the QUEBRADA de CAFAYATE mountain range that runs parallel to the massive river called the RIO LAS CONCHAS.
The mini bus left at 2 pm with about 12 passengers on board, this is where I met up with the 2 pommy girls and the girl from South Africa. All afternoon we were just stunned at every stop with all the different shapes of rock formations, the narrow gorges and the layered colours in the rock. Having these brilliantly coloured natural colours and shapes that are so rare to see in one area, it is so hard to describe how it was to walk along these tracks and see such beauty.
For once, the postcard colours you see from here are real. SEE BELOW
It was a great experience to see this area, a real treasure for Cafayate, being such a great little town in the Northern parts of Argentina. Booked a seat on the bus this morning to go to Tucuman, only to find out this afternoon that is was a public holiday tomorrow, as it was a Labour Day Holiday and there were no buses running, shops or cafes open all day.
Plan B was to get some food and vino tonight and head up into the mountains at the back of town to the waterfalls early in the morning.
The girls decided to go to the vineyards for a look and a bit of wine tasting, so I headed off on my own which was a good idea, as it was a long walk and it was so nice and peaceful. The road up was o k but the track from the entrance to the park to the falls was more like a small mountain climb. After about 2 to 3 hours of climbing, slipping and crawling, I finally found the falls which were very small and not very exciting to see. The water was crystal clear and great to drink but way to cold to swim in. Had a feed and headed back out only to be confronted by the girls that had decided to meet up with me along the track and have a few wines. It was a very physical day for me but quite enjoyable.
All was going well back at the hostel with the crew until I tried to pack up my computer which was on the table near a small glass coffee table in the lounge room. I tripped on the floor mat and ended up falling onto the glass table backwards, which left about 3 large pieces of glass sticking out of my leg behind my knee. The hostel staff panicked a bit and rushed me off to the hospital. It was o k. They picked out the glass, rubbed my leg with ointment and said off you go, I guess I was lucky to not to have had to have stiches put in.
Another wasted day waiting for the only bus that goes down to Tucuman. You have to go to Tucuman to meet up with the buses that either go east to B. A. or west to Mendoza. I decided on Mendoza. The next bus then crosses over through the Andes once again going back into Chile. I need to find out about the bikes movements and when I would be able to get it. It was one hell of a journey. We left Cafayate at 6 pm arriving at Tucuman at 11pm which gave me two hours to find a bus heading down to Mendoza.
Got a ticket and I was off again, this section was from 1am to 3.30 pm the next afternoon, 14.5 hours. I arrived ok tired but happy to be getting back into Chile, I wandered around again until I finally found a bus going to Santiago at 11 pm. I was lucky as there were only two seats left on the only bus heading west that night.
What a bus trip this turned out to be. We left at 11 p m and for the next hour or so we just hiked it along this flat highway. Then we started to climb this very steep mountain range. As we went up it started to get pretty cold in the bus, I looked out of the window and then noticed these tall mountain tops with snow on the peaks. The higher we went the colder it got and the snow started to appear closer to the road edges as we ascended to the stage that it was all over the roofs of the houses and it had been bulldozed off the road into big piles along the edges of the road. It was 1a m in the morning, but with a clear moon lit night and all of the stars were out, you could easily pick out the outlines of the peaks with the snow on top and how much higher they were then us, it was great viewing all the way up. We arrived on the top of the range at the border crossing at about 2 a m and lucky for us they have a large tin building in which the buses can fit; people can get out and do all of their passport business without being snowed on. No hassles with customs got my stamps and we were back on the road within the hour.
The next bit of the journey was another thriller, we were going down now at a very fast rate, you would come up to a bend in the road and as we went around the corner you could see the road winding down below us to a section of road that was lit up with lights about 1500 metres below us. There were no barriers or rails on the edges of the road and we would get as close as a metre from the edge of the road at any one time. It was kind of scary but great to have had the experience of seeing and crossing the Andes at night, I hope to come back over this way soon on the bike, as it is a good road and would be a hell of an experience to do it in the daytime.
We finally arrived in Santiago at about 4.30 a m. I grabbed a cab and booked into the La Casa Roja at 5am for the week ahead as I need to see that’s going on with the shipping agent about the bike, and I really need to catch up with some people with emails. Slept until lunchtime and had an easy afternoon.
Went and spoke to Fran the shipping agent this morning for about an hour or so, he’s a great bloke, speaks really good English and he was as stunned as what I am, as to why the bike is taking so long to get here. He reckons that the agent in Brisbane is not very good at his job and he has told me a heap of crap as to how long it was going to be before the bike actually arrives here. Fran thinks that if I have the proof that Andrew lied to me I have a good chance of getting some money back off the freight charges that I paid. He got me a map of town showing where the BMW shop is, so I may head out there tomorrow and get some motor oil and have a chat with the mechanic about getting the alarm hocked in to the bike computer system.
Another problem I have now is that the (Bill of Lading) certificate that Andrew sent me is not the original copy and I can’t get the bike off the wharf without it, so I’ve had to email him a letter today demanding that he sends the original copy to Fran by courier ASAP. I have really had a gutful of this bloke, as he is making life for me here so very difficult. Fran was telling me today that there is a lot of political trouble in Bolivia at the moment, especially in Santa Cruz. Also, there is an active volcano spewing out massive amounts of dust down south of here in Chile. They have evacuated a whole city as they think it might erupt at any time, so it may be hard for me to get down to the bottom now anyway, we’ll see what happens in the next week or so.
I have finally caught up with the diary.
Had some news today about going down south at this time of year. You can still make it down to Ushuaia, the only trouble is that the volcano at CHAITEN has erupted this morning pouring thousands of tonnes of fine, hot volcanic dust all over the area from the Chilean coast to the East coast of Argentina and is blocking all the roads going south. Three cities have been evacuated and there is lava ash 20cm deep all over some of the surrounding towns. They are saying that the spouting lava particles are going as high as 15 kms upwards. Apparently, some of the towns have been badly burnt by the dropping hot ashes from the 800metre wide crater left open in the mountain.
Interesting times ahead I think.
Well, things are still up in the air in regards to when the hell I will get to see the bike. I have payed the shipping agent what the cost were to get the bike through the customs and payed the import duty. He is still waiting for the right papers to be sent from Brisbane, and he is getting very annoyed as I am, with this idiot in Brisbane. I stayed in Santiago for one week and then had to get out of the place. The hostel is really not that great, as many people are still sleeping at lunch time from late night drinking and nightclubbing and you have to move around the room in the dark all of the time, its fairly expensive to stay there and then there’s the city smog. It makes your throat like a rasp after being in town all day long. I finally made up two parcels and got them posted back to Wendy’s. I left last Saturday and found a cheap hostel in Valparaiso near the bus station. I stayed there for two days until I found a better place that I can put the bike in safety while I get my gear organised. It’s a great hostel just out of town, it’s called Amsterdam Backpackers. It was right next door to a pub called The Amsterdam, both places are owned by the same young guy.
It’s brand new and has only been open for about a month and at present, I am the only tenant. It’s right across the road from the beach which will be great in the summer and has a pub right next door. It has 24 hour office staff to do security watch and also be on hand if there are any enquires about accommodation. It’s a bonus for me because all of the staff is uni students and they are a great bunch of guys and girls. They work here part time and while they are sitting by the phone they are doing their studies and keeping me company, it’s great.
Valparaiso is a very old city and it is well known for its long and old shipping history and you can feel the marine impact it had by the style of the old buildings down around the wharf area. It has lots of old traditional looking warehouses which have now been turned into office space, small narrow streets and laneways everywhere and of course, the old pebbled roads of old. It is very hilly and that’s where the very unusual hill side escalators or ( Ascensores, Funiculars.) came into existence. There are about 15 lifts of these rail car lifts scattered all over the city taking people from one street straight up onto the next or in some cases even further up the hills to lookouts and hotels. It’s another one of the many cities that I have seen over here that is built on the side of a hill, no matter what the angle of the hill is. It makes the city look really unique with the awkward positions of the buildings and the very colourful use of paint on the exterior.
The traffic out here is crazy, everybody drives around like maniacs, the bus drivers are well known to be the worst of them all, they just drive flat out everywhere they go, even right through the centre of town you have to watch yourself just crossing the street. Another thing this city is well known for is the amount of protests they have here. Valparaiso is the home for the Chilean Congress building, which at times, is used to show the oppression people feel about what is happening in their country. Nearly every day in the city, you’ll see groups of school students or uni protestors moving around the plazas with the riot police not far away, sitting on street corners just waiting for a riot to start. The police have two vehicles they move around in. One is like a bus covered in mesh that they have riot equipped men in. The other truck is mounted with a massive water tank on the back; and water cannon mounted on the roof. This machine is also used to spread the deadly capsicum spray gas used by police to break up big crowds. They mix it in with the water and man doesn’t it get your eyes watering and your throat sore. I walked around a corner near the Congress building the other day and within two steps I could feel my eyes starting to water and my throat starting to get sore. It seems that a short time before I got there, people were protesting outside the congress building and the police had used the water guns to disperse the crowds and the bad thing with this gas is, it floats around in the air and is eventually spread out to a radius of about 4 street blocks. I was in the supermarket and even the cash out girls had tears in their eyes and they were about two blocks away.
I went across the road yesterday to the beach and had a walk around and a look at the fishing boats and the guys there, cleaning their long lines and baiting them up for the next day’s fishing,
The USS George Washington aircraft carrier is in port at the moment for the Chilean Public holiday on Tuesday and when I went out onto the wharf to have a look at her, anchored out in the bay, there were about 8 seals or sea lions swimming around between the two piers. They are massive in size and were having a great feed on fish, good to watch. I have noticed on the maps that all along the Argentina coast from the bottom to Buenos Aires you can see sea lions, seals, right whales and penguins at certain times of the year, mainly from June to December.
I think I also saw the ship with the bike on it moored in the harbour, I’m sure the shipping agent said it was a company called UCC. It was moored just out from where I am staying, I really hope it is. I have spoken to the BMW shop in Santiago about getting the tyres changed and having the alarm computed into the bike, they seem ok about it and hopefully I can get in there sometime on Thursday and then I’m out of here. It’s going to be a challenge getting through the traffic in the centre of Santiago as the bike shop is on the other side of town and you have to go through the city to get there unless you know where you are going, we’ll see what happens.
It seems my best plan now is to try and get down south as far and as quick as I can by going over to Mendoza and then heading straight down as the fuel is cheaper in Argentina and the weather may be a bit kinder to me on the other side of the Andes and away from the coast. There are a couple of good places to see if it doesn’t snow in on me and then if I get to Ushuaia I can then follow the East coast back up till I get to Montevideo in Uruguay
The bonus going this time of year is that the mountains will have snow and the wildlife will on up along the East coast of the continent, especially the right whales, that would be great to see and make up for all the hassles I have had to put up with, just to get here and get going.